A gift of fear and joy

Last night the fear that comes with vulnerability and the opportunity for connection came smack up against each other.

As part of my efforts to bring joy back into my life, I have started singing again in a band. A duo this time.  And last night we performed some of our new songs in front of an audience.  Dressed in costume.

I get nervous when we play gigs. Which is okay. I’m nervous because I care. Because it matters to me. It matters to put on a good show. To do justice to the music. To be solid for my fellow musician in the band.

Nervous is different from fear.  Nervous can take your breath away but fear takes your voice away.

And singing is one of the most vulnerable things that I do. The most exposed. Emotionally risky. But one of the things that allows for the deepest connections and the most body-filling joy of breath and sound and sharing.

Peter Sellars (the theatre producer, not the comedic actor) said,

Vocal music is an attempt to take the whole human being and project it into space.  It is the ultimate gesture of getting out of yourself.  You take a part of you that is most private, most personal, most inward, and you hurl it out into space—you project it as far as you can. That gesture of opening this whole region of the body results in an enormous spiritual release, and is felt by other people with tremendous impact.

So I was nervous last night. Not unusual. I was dressed up, too, which I always find stressful. Also not unusual. But, I was also feeling hugely vulnerable about one particular song. It is a slow song which relies a lot on the vocals. It’s high in my range of singing which requires a steady reservoir of breath. The lyrics are beautiful and emotionally evocative  and were written and gifted to the band by a dear friend.  And, I was singing into a mic in a small room where every note seemed louder and bigger than usual.

I sang the first line of the lyrics and it comes out as wobbly and insecure as I feel.  And I am immediately thrown back into a childhood memory. Except that the emotional state feels exactly the same; as though no time at all had passed.

I used to sing in church when I was little. My Mom and I were usually the only ones in my family who regularly attended services. But, one Sunday I was scheduled to sing a solo and my older sister and her boyfriend came to hear me sing. This was a big deal. Well, it was a big deal to me.

It must have been the first time I got nervous singing.  And I got really nervous. My heart was pounding so hard that it shook my whole chest. And my throat. And my voice. My singing was wobbly and shaky and I remember being completely confused about this new experience. But I knew it wasn’t good. And I didn’t know how to make it stop.

No one talked to me about it afterwards. But I knew it was bad because no one complimented my singing like they usually did.  It was clear to me that people were disappointed. And because no one said anything I never got to ask “what happened?”, “is that normal?”, “how do I stop it next time?”. And no one ever said “it’s okay, it wasn’t perfect but that’s okay, you did your best and we love you”. Instead, what I learned was that if it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t okay.  That if I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t okay.

So there I stood last night, feeling nervous and vulnerable yes, but it was that emotional flashback, that flashnow,  that took away my breath and voice and left me with a first line that was as shaky and insecure as that little girl who didn’t understand what had happened. Who only understood that she wasn’t good enough.

And this is where the gift comes in. I am not that little girl anymore but I have the chance to change her story. My story. Because the opportunity in being vulnerable is to allow myself to be seen. With authenticity and honesty. With my very human imperfections. To be connected. With others and with myself. To release part of my spirit and let it be seen and heard. To know that I am enough.

And with that in mind, I found my breath and my courage and a little more of my voice and the second line came out a little stronger. And the third a little stronger after that.  It may not have been perfect – whatever that is! – but it connected.  And there was joy in that.

And, I think, a gift of healing for that little girl.

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Thank you, Sesame Street

Sometimes, I have no idea what I’m feeling.

That’s why I love the clip I posted of Dave Matthews and Grover yesterday from Sesame Street. At the beginning, neither of them knows what they are feeling. And then, through a song (of course!) they work it out. What a great thing to teach kids.

I never learned that as a kid. It’s only over the past 5 years or so that I have been learning how to identify my feelings. When I was a kid, my family never talked about our feelings. Eventually, I started using food to just numb them out. Thing is, though, you can’t numb just the bad feelings. You end up numbing out everything.

When I started to feel my feelings again, it was such a learning process of sitting with the feeling and figuring it out. Is it anger? Is it hurt? What kind of hurt? Disappointed hurt? Sad hurt? Is it love? Gratitude? Nervous anxiety or fear anxiety? Anger shielding something else?

And then there are feelings that don’t quite have a good word. Combinations of feelings; layers of feelings at the same time. Happy and sad. Anger with love. Laughter through pain. Disappointment with gratitude. Or, like Grover, to make a wish with all your heart and have it not come true. Or, like Dave, to be happy for a friend but just a little bit jealous, too.

I have found myself during emotionally charged conversations needing to say, “can I just take a few minutes? I need to sit and be quiet and figuring out how I’m feeling.”

Yesterday was a rough day. I was overwhelmed with life and not feeling physically well. I texted my sister and said “I need a hug. I just want to cry.” She texted a hug. And, then, I sat and cried for a few minutes. And then I felt a little better.

In the midst of crying, I thought “wow, this is so great.” Five years ago, I would not have been able to do that. To ask for help. To just let go and cry. To understand the emotional need and then fill that need.

And then, that made me laugh at myself just a bit.

I’m glad Sesame Street is there to help kids. And, sometimes, us adults, too.

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A summer of single days

In the middle of this summer, I have made startling discovery. As I try to live my life one day at a time, the anxiety of achieving a future state of happiness has gone away and I am, well, pretty relaxed.

It used to be that days were marked by day, month and season. Weekdays (aka workdays) were dreaded and weekends were celebrated. Rainy months were supposed to be dreary and summer months were eagerly hyped as a time for play.

I have always that found vaguely stressful. There seems to be a lot of pressure placed on the “good times” of weekends and summer to have, well, good times. I always felt that I wasn’t quite doing enough – camping enough, partying enough, have crazy adventures enough.

Here’s the weird thing. As I’ve focused on just living one day at a time, I am finding that those expectations have fallen away and I am learning to appreciate the presents of the present.

Sometimes, I am focused on just one day because that’s all I can manage to think of getting through. It’s kind of relief to know that I don’t have to make things better. I can accept the sadness or loneliness of the day as just one day.

Sometimes, there seems so much that “should” be done that I’m overwhelmed and have to break it down to what I can do just for today.

Sometimes, the day is great and I can enjoy each slow moment of contentment.  I can treasure the little things, express gratitude for my many blessings and laugh and be silly.

As I try to live each single day being the person I want to be in this world rather than some version of me that I think I am supposed to be, I find that there are no wasted days and each comes with its own gifts. I am inspired to keep striving, to pushing my boundaries, to live with my whole heart and to be authentic each day.

This week, I spent what is normally a work day out kayaking with some friends. It didn’t feel strange at all to be not at work. It was just what that day had in store. I have had great days at work. I have had long, lonely weekend days. I have frittered away a sunny day indoors when I should be outside. I have reveled in the return of the rain. I have let the depression win some days (and the potato chips). I have said “no thanks, I’ve camped enough for one summer.” I have treasured quiet coffee chats with friends. I’ve gone to bed before the sun goes down and I have partied late into the night til the sun was coming up again.

And, somewhere in there, I think I stopped living for an imaginary future where I accomplish all my “should” be items. Waiting for a future vacation, or a future weekend. Or a future anything.

And you know what? I’m having a really great summer.

One day at a time.

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The landscape of grief

Grief is a strange and timeless landscape.

Yesterday, the day took a dip and I was again journalling through my thoughts and emotions, back in that familiar landscape of sorrow and disappointment and the struggle to understand life’s twists and unexpected turns.

I know I am making progress. The dips are less frequent, less deep and last less long. Still, there is that little voice that says, “Back here again? Shouldn’t you be over this? What’s wrong with you?”

I am firmly telling that voice to shut up.

Grief takes it’s own sweet time.

It digs deep into your heart and unearths previously unknown places. Places of pure and intense emotion – anger, beauty, collapse, courage. And, in that intimate place of self, there is a strange connection with the ghost of the person who has passed out of your life.

I guess that’s why it’s sometimes hard to let go of grief. Because you also have to let go of that person who you are moving away from and leaving behind. Leave them in the past and move into your future without them.

Leave that version of yourself behind and move into a different future.

It’s a journey we all take alone.

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